An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Clongowes Wood College

Naas, Co. Kildare

Roll number: 61720F

 

 

 

Date of inspection: 6 October, 2006

Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clongowes Wood College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Clongowes Wood College is an all boys' boarding school with strong traditions. There is very good whole-school support and provision for English in Clongowes Wood College. All class groups have five class periods a week which are, for the most part, evenly distributed across the week in keeping with good practice. Classes are mixed ability throughout junior cycle and in Transition Year, which is compulsory for all students. In senior cycle there is one class group containing the highest achieving students in English and two classes of mixed-ability students. However, the vast majority of students will do higher level in their state examinations. This year there is also one small class of ordinary-level fifth-year students. This group receives its English lessons on the first three days of the week. It is recommended that the school explore ways of reintegrating these boys into other English class groups on Thursday and Friday of each week so that they have daily contact with English as well as the benefit of extra classes. Alternatively, the classes should be spread over five days. The manner in which class groups are formed is commended.  Classes are concurrently timetabled in fifth and sixth year which allows for movement of students if necessary. The English teachers also recognise the benefits of concurrent timetabling for inter-class activities, such as revision classes given to the whole group. Students are placed in classes at senior cycle based on their Junior Certificate English results and progress in Transition Year. Students’ progress is reviewed regularly with their teachers and year heads in consultation with parents. This is very good practice.

 

A range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English is available to students, including Drama, inter-class and inter-group debating, visiting speakers and theatre outings. Students are also encouraged to participate in creative writing competitions. In senior cycle, students are encouraged to research and present papers on topics of their own choosing in order to gain entry into an elite group of students and former students; the ‘Higher Line Academy’. There is a film society in the college where students can watch film “classics” every Friday night and students also produce and perform dramas and plays throughout their time in the school. For example, a full-length play involving sixth years is produced, and a festival of drama is produced involving all other year groups annually. Year groups are divided into “lines” containing first and second years, third and fourth years and fifth and sixth years respectively. Each line is involved in inter-line debating. The school also provides London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art courses in the evening time. This range of opportunities for students is evidence of the strong focus on self-directed learning and learning for life in the college. Transition Year students study a number of subjects on a modular basis which have strong links with English. These include Media Studies, Social Awareness and Film Making.       

 

Most teachers have their own base classrooms. These classrooms are equipped with television, video, DVD players and overhead projectors. In addition, some teachers have been supplied with laptops and data projectors. There are also plans to provide ceiling mounted projectors in some rooms next summer. A lecture room is also available for visiting writers and for revision classes. It was reported that the English department is planning a central resource area for storage of common resources which is good practice. There is provision made for updating and maintaining English resources through an annual review and budget.

 

Although there was a library in the college, this is currently not functioning as a library which is regrettable. However, there are plans to build an Academic Resource Centre in 2007 (incorporating library, research and peer-tutoring facilities). Students do have access to a range of books currently stored in a room and the tradition of reading among students in the school is applauded in this report. Each year group is given a book list and students have time to read for pleasure during the last half hour of study every evening. Prefects have developed libraries for each year group in the boarding school. The good practice of some teachers having age-appropriate books available in their classrooms for students to borrow was also observed.

 

All teachers have personal e-mail addresses and access to eight computers in the staff room. There are eighty computers also available to class groups and individual students in the computer room and it was reported that students use these on a regular basis for research purposes. The computer room could also be used during class for the purpose of editing work.

 

Planning and preparation

 

The head of English in the school is the most senior English teacher who was chosen by the principal with the consensus of the English department. The English department is very well co-ordinated and progressive as seen from the sharing of resources, the frequent collaboration and the sharing of skills, knowledge and methodologies. Nevertheless, it is suggested that the role of head of English or co-ordinator be rotated on an annual basis among English teachers so that all teachers gain experience of this role. English teachers have formally engaged with subject planning since 2005. Formal subject planning meetings are held once per term. An agenda and records of these meetings are available which is testament to the good planning of English teachers in the school. Teachers also meet informally on a regular basis. Teachers generally agree on core textbooks but are free to choose other texts individually for their classes. These texts are chosen based on suitability to the class and on teachers’ previous experience of use of the text. There was evidence that teachers use a wide and interesting range of novels and plays with their classes.

 

Minutes of department meetings reflect a strong team spirit among the English department. There was evidence of very good collaboration, with teachers sharing methodologies, being aware of the texts they all teach, sharing opinions on these texts, and demonstrating an awareness of the importance of developing critical literacy. In addition, the plan recognises the importance of developing personal response and active discussion in class and placing the student at the centre of the learning process.

 

The English department has developed a comprehensive English plan which includes its aims and range of policies. The plan also lists audio-visual equipment available. However, it is recommended that an inventory be made of other resources, such as DVDs, videos and books so that all teachers will know what is available to the department.

 

There is also a plan available in the school which outlines learning outcomes or key skills that each year group should achieve. These are identified as aims or objectives. The plan for some year groups also identifies methodologies for suggested use in class. This is good practice. It is commendable that first-year students study a novel in class and also complete a number of book reviews and reading diaries. It is also commendable that second-year and third-year class groups generally study a novel and play in each respective year. The plans, as they stand, are written in different styles which can be customised over time. They reflect good progress in planning and sharing of ideas and methodologies.

 

There was evidence that teachers organise units of study based on certain themes. For example, in Transition Year, some class groups study texts and literature based on themes such as friendship, hero, and journeys. This is a commendable strategy and one to be encouraged. Teachers could link themes from time to time so that, for example, after studying some war poets students could be encouraged to do a written piece on a similar topic or to read a short story with the same theme. This is a strategy that works well at junior and senior cycle and it is a practice that was reported to happen informally in the school. There were many good examples of the integration of the teaching of language and literature observed. Students, for example, wrote newspaper headlines based on the play they were studying and wrote the obituary for a character in a text. Good practice was seen in that all students have a dictionary.

 

Planning documentation is evidence of a reflective English department which is aware of its strengths and is always exploring possibilities for improvement.

 

There is a comprehensive Transition Year (TY) programme available with clear and praiseworthy aims and objectives including the encouragement of self-directed learning. Students in Transition Year experience a broad English programme, often, for example, studying language, film, novel, short stories and poetry. TY teachers are free to choose their own material to realise these aims. It was reported that teachers ensure that novels, plays and films studied in TY are not re-taught in fifth year which is commendable and is in keeping with Department of Education and Science guidelines on the Transition Year. It is suggested that such texts be taught in a manner that is significantly different from the way they would be taught in Leaving Certificate. This is in order to broaden students’ experiences of English and to ensure that TY does not become the first year of a Leaving Certificate course. For example, it is laudable that the skills of comparison are taught in TY but that the texts chosen to teach these skills are not reused for Leaving Certificate.

 

Students with literacy support needs are identified through links with feeder primary schools, from psychological reports and through testing by the learning-support teacher as well as by teacher observation. There are no students with language support needs in the school. Although the school has no official learning-support allocation from the Department of Education and Science, it employs a full-time learning support teacher to cater for the needs of any students with special educational needs or literacy and numeracy needs. This is laudable. Students receive such support, if needed, from first to sixth year.

 

English teachers are reported to liaise regularly with the learning-support teacher. Students in receipt of literacy support are withdrawn individually or in small groups. In addition, there is one small group created for ordinary level for fifth-year English. It is recommended that the learning-support teacher attend formal English department meetings to formalise the liaison with the teachers. There is a reading programme available for those students who may need extra help with reading and a paired reading programme is also available for such students. Students also receive peer tutoring. There are two learning-support rooms in the college and a library of appropriate reading material is being built up in these rooms. Students’ improvements are assessed through regular assessments and re-testing.  There is a learning-support policy for English which is commended.

 

Because of the mixed-ability nature of many of the year groups in the school, it is commendable that teachers recognise the need to differentiate their teaching to cater for different abilities in the classroom. The college should consider accessing inservice on this area from the Second Level Support Service or the Special Education Support Service in order that all teachers learn more skills in this area. Teachers have already received inservice on teaching students with specific learning difficulties.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Among the aims of the English department are “to foster a love and appreciation of the English language and literature” and “to accommodate the needs of all learning styles by using a variety of methodologies”. There was evidence that these aims are clearly realised by the department. In addition, the department is “explicit” in stating that its intention is “to make English classes a forum for debate, discussion and critical thinking”. Again there was strong evidence to suggest that this intention is being realised by the department.

 

Clear instructions were given in all lessons and the purpose of each lesson was stated to the students from the outset. Teachers constantly stressed the need for students to look for evidence to back up what they wrote and said. In general, there was a good variety of tasks evident in lessons so that students had not the opportunity to become bored or restless.  

 

All lessons were well prepared and well structured. Teachers used a range of resources including DVD, overhead projector and handouts as well as the whiteboard. They were in no way reliant on their textbooks. Teachers also access the internet for notes for their students. There was evidence that ICT is also used effectively by teachers skilled in its use to present Power Point presentations and to do written tasks collaboratively in class. This is to be applauded as students are adept at this skill. In addition, students are placed in groups to work on making their own presentations, another excellent strategy. Some students also e-mail work to their teachers which is very progressive.

 

There was a variety of methodologies evident in lessons and awareness by teachers of the importance of engaging students and allowing students to actively participate in class. As a result, there was evidence of good discussion and active student involvement in all lessons. Pair and group work were effective methodologies used.  Short, focussed tasks were set for students when in these groups which is good practice. For example students had been put into groups of five in a previous lesson to examine a particular poem and they then reported back to the entire class on their findings during the lesson visited. Such methodologies are effective examples of the teacher facilitating learning, especially as teachers moved around the class to assist each group or pair as they worked together. Another effective methodology observed was the use of hot seating. Students had to take on the persona of a character they were studying in a novel and imagine how that character was feeling. This is an excellent strategy as students learn about point of view and come to a deeper understanding of the text.

 

Good pre-reading exercises were in evidence in preparation for watching a film extract or when the class recapped on what had happened before continuing with their novel. Very good links were created between texts and contemporary life. For example, students were introduced to a poem by being asked about their memories of historical events so that they could empathise with the point of view in the poem. Creative modelling was also used where students examined articles written in certain tones and then did pieces of writing modelling these tones. Students were also put in groups to do modelling work on writing a sonnet. It was also reported that students’ work is sometimes used as examples of good practice which is to be encouraged as an effective learning strategy. New vocabulary and aspects of grammar were seamlessly built into lessons which is exemplary practice. There was a very good example of a close reading of the studied novel where students examined a particular key chapter to see how tension was built up over the course of the chapter. In addition, an extract from the chapter was used as an exemplar of descriptive writing which students had to examine in pairs.

 

The board was used effectively to record key points, which students in turn recorded. Mind-mapping was also used to capture key points made by students. It is recommended that samples of students’ work, books and posters be more evident in all English teachers’ classrooms so that students can be surrounded by a stimulating learning environment. In addition, key quotes and key words could be displayed so that students absorb these words to aid effective learning.

 

Students were often involved in their lessons through questions and answers. Through skilful questioning teachers often led their students to think more clearly about their texts and to come up with good points. In this way questions ranged from lower-order or recall-type questions to higher-order questions which pushed students to examine their texts more closely. For example, through effective questioning students came to understand the key features of a sonnet without being told beforehand what these were. It is recommended that teachers ask questions of individual students as opposed to asking those who put up their hands to ensure that all students are on task and to ensure that a small group of students does not dominate the class discussion. Questions can be differentiated to suit the different ability levels in the class. Students were also very comfortable in asking questions of their teachers. It was also noteworthy that students listened to each other’s point of view and showed great respect for each other’s opinions. Good practice was also seen when students were encouraged to justify their answers or their work. For example, they had to justify why they drew illustrations of characters they were studying in a text in a certain way.

 

There was a respectful and caring environment evident in all lessons visited. Teachers were very encouraging of their students’ endeavours and demonstrated a good knowledge of each student. All students were engaged in their work and there was an atmosphere of solid work going on in all lessons. Teachers moved around the classrooms to help students.

 

Teachers’ plans showed a good emphasis on developing writing skills which is to be encouraged and there was an emphasis, for example, on students writing in the correct genre and developing skills of critical analysis. In addition, there was evidence of appropriate emphasis on planning and structuring written work. This is highly commended as all students need a lot of practice in writing in different genres. Therefore, the importance of setting regular writing tasks for students in class and for homework cannot be underestimated and was evident in the majority of lessons observed.

 

There was clear evidence of learning, gleaned from the inspector’s interactions with students. Students proved themselves knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics and there was evidence that they were widely read. In particular they answered confidently on their English course.

 

There is an exceptionally high uptake of higher level in English in both Junior and Leaving Certificate and there was strong evidence that these students achieve very well in their state examinations.  The English department is commended for undertaking an extensive analysis of their Leaving Certificate results and for their awareness of trends and achievement.

 

Overall, the English department in Clongowes Wood College is highly commended for its commitment to its students and subject and for the excellent methodologies employed during the course of the inspection.

 

Assessment

 

Formal end-of-term examinations take place at Christmas and summer and examination classes sit mock examinations. Parents receive written reports on their sons’ progress at Christmas and in the summer. In addition, five five-weekly assessments or ‘diligence’ reports are made available to parents via the college website which contains a mark for student application and a grade for achievement. A parent-teacher meeting is held once per year for each year group. Teachers are commended for their very good profiling of students’ progress, including their homework, strengths and weaknesses. Transition Year students sit end-of-term examinations which are common and students in TY are also assessed continuously.

 

The English homework policy reflects the school’s structured study programme and outlines the study time available to each year group in the school. The policy is comprehensive and the intention to set and correct written work in each class group at least once a week is to be encouraged. The policy of also giving clear diagnostic and helpful feedback to each student is laudable and there was evidence that this is the case with students receiving excellent written feedback in English lessons. In addition, students also received good verbal feedback on their work in many lessons. The policy also outlines the type of homework that is suitable for each ‘line’ of students. It is recommended that the discrete criteria for assessment of Leaving Certificate English be used when marking students’ work towards the beginning of the second term of fifth year so that students know exactly where they gain or lose marks. In addition, it is recommended that all teachers write homework on the board for students to record.

 

Students’ copies demonstrated that students in most class groups had done a range of appropriate work which was very well corrected. Consideration could be given to adopting a policy on use of folders or manuscript copies or use of hardback copies for students, and marks could be allotted for maintenance of these. Homework assigned often moved away from simply requiring students to answer questions in a book to encouraging creativity, and integrating all aspects of English. For example students were asked to write about how they might stage a scene from a novel being studied, and were asked to draw illustrations of characters they were studying in a text. There was one excellent example of students having to do a self-evaluation of their own progress in English at regular intervals.

 

At present there are no common examinations set for students with the exception of Transition Year. It is recommended that consideration be given to introducing common examinations to ensure transparency and standardisation.

 

Clongowes Wood College is truly living out its mission statement. The pursuit of excellence, the active participation of students and the mutual respect between students and teachers were clearly evident over the course of the evaluation.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

 

The school is very pleased with the English Inspection report.  We are particularly pleased that our efforts to promote self-directed learning, critical literacy and education for life were recognised and lauded.  We appreciate very much the report’s references to the ethos of the school and the mutually-respectful atmosphere that prevails in the classroom.  The inspection process was appositive experience for the school and the teachers concerned.

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection  

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection    

 

 

We welcome the recommendations in the report.  With one exception, these recommendations have already been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.

 

We wish to convey our gratitude to the Inspectorate for its thorough and complimentary analysis of our English Department